Friday 24 June 2016

A Revealing Slip?...

I blogged recently about the shift in my self-understanding that was triggered by the Hogan Dark Side questionnaire. In particular, I reached an understanding that my social reserve (in informal situations) is not by fundamental orientation, but a learned defensive behaviour.  That shift has had some real, interesting and thought-provoking results.

The first thing I noticed was shortly after my feedback session, when I attended a reunion of participants on a programme I had run a while previously. Normally, such occasions are precisely those on which my social reserve is evident. Historically, I have engaged little and not particularly enjoy them. However, on leaving that evening, I noticed that I had engaged a lot more, in a more relaxed (and in Hogan terms, colourful and imaginative way) and as a result had enjoyed the occasion a lot more.

Interestingly, that was not as a result of any intention - I had not planned to do so, as a result of my new insight. No, my analysis is that the new insight itself, alone, was enough to change my behaviour slightly, and the positive feedback that elicited from others reinforced that, and that led to a different pattern of engagement.

The next notable point of interest, and one tending in the other direction, arose last week. It was the end-of-course dinner for a year-long programme at a university. Again I was relaxed, and allowing my habitual reserve on such occasions to slip away. And then I said something careless, that I wished I hadn't said, and which was picked up on (very gently) by someone at the table.

I was recounting the story of a film, The Story of Ruth (the 1981 one, with Connie Booth, not the earlier famous film of the same name) which had used our family house as a set - in fact a set for a number of different locations in the film. I mentioned that it was, amongst others, the respite home 'where all the loonies lived...' At that, someone at the table raised an eyebrow and muttered 'careful...' or something.

Reflecting on this later, I was struck by a few things.  Firstly, I was interested in the slip itself. Was it because I was relaxed, and thus betrayed an attitude I would sooner hide?  I don't think so: I really do not think, or talk, about those with mental health problems as 'loonies.' So where did it come from?  My best guess is that in telling the story, I was reverting to the teenager who first told his friends that story in 1981, and used the language I would have used then. Not an all together comfortable reflection, but I think an honest one.

But I was also keenly aware that such an embarrassing slip is precisely the kind of reason that I had developed my social reserve. When I was younger, I would have found it completely mortifying to have been in such a situation, with people (I would have imagined) forming all sorts of judgements about me. But now, I am better placed, emotionally at least, to deal with such embarrassment without being completely distraught. Also, when I was younger, the likelihood was that a social faux pas would lead to ridicule and possibly bullying or ostracisation. That is certainly no longer the case.

So despite the embarrassment of that moment, I remain happy with my less reserved self, and will continue to take the risk of expressing myself more on such informal social occasions - and just pray that I don't make too much of a spectacle of myself!

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